HealthSmart Q & A-12

Dear HealthSmart,

Why is it so important for young people–preteens to mid-twenties–to get the HPV vaccine? What are the advantages of receiving this vaccine early? What about older adults–is it too late for them to receive the vaccine? Why or why not?

HealthSmart asked Dr. Linda Fu, M.D., Pediatrician at Children’s National Health System. Here’s her response:

It is important to receive the vaccine at an early age for two reasons. First, the vaccine is ineffective against pre-existing infections, so prevention is key. Second, studies have shown that young people between the ages of 11-12 produce a higher antibody response to the vaccine, increasing its effectiveness. This response dramatically decreases after the age of 15. The current age limit for receiving the vaccine is 26 years old. Gardasil is a lifesaving vaccine with long lasting immunity against the HPV virus. There is no good reason to delay receiving the vaccine. In the decade since it has been in use, the HPV vaccine has decreased the number of infections by 56%.


Dear HealthSmart,

I‘m a really active 24-year-old. After a recent run, I was horrified to spot bulging purple veins on my legs. At my age could I have varicose veins? If so, how can I stop them from getting worse?

HealthSmart asked Dr. Jeffrey Kalish, M.D., Director of Endovascular Surgery at Boston University Medical Center. Here’s his response:

Sorry to say you probably do have varicose veins–which are not uncommon in your age group. What’s important to know is that they don’t pose a health risk. But they can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. To deal with the discomfort, try using compression stockings when you’re running or standing for a lengthy time. These stockings lessen discomfort and prevent blood from pooling–giving you a good shot at containing the problem.


Dear HealthSmart,

What are the screening methods for ovarian cancer? Will a routine pap smear detect ovarian cancer?

HealthSmart asked Dr. Saundra S. Buys, M.D., Professor of Medicine and Medical Director of the Huntsman Cancer Center at University of Utah Health Care. Here’s her response.

There is a common misconception that a routine pap smear will detect ovarian cancer, but this is not true. The MRI is used to detect ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, the MRI can yield a fair number of both false positives and negatives. The false positive isn’t necessarily a detriment, as it could lead to discovery of a cysts, liver disease, or congestive heart failure. There was a study done between 1993 and 2001 that indicated there was no difference in mortality rates for women who had a pap smear and those who didn’t. Ovarian cancer can spread widely in the abdomen before it can be detected as a mass in the ovary or a mass in the fallopian tube. By the time it’s detected, it’s at an advanced stage.


Do you have questions on health or wellness you’d like answered by the nation’s leading medical researchers? If so, you can send to HealthSmart is a national newspaper column from the Washington News Service in DC. Due to demand, we are unable to reply to all inquiries. Responses through the column are no substitute for care from physicians or other medical professionals.

Copyright Ellen James Martin 2021



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